Social Change in the Digital Age
Corporate Communication and Public Relations, B.A.
Academic year 2021-2022
IULM University, Milan, Italy
“It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Social Change in the Digital Age investigates some of the most complex challenges that society is facing today, both at a macro and micro level. It does so by examining four keywords that inform the contemporary moment: failure, apocalypse, crisis, and pollution. The underlying principle is that these dynamics, hereby understood both literally and metaphorically, are not an anomaly, but rather constitute the standard operation procedure within capitalism. To illustrate and articulate this apparent paradox, we will discuss several environments, contexts and case studies, including Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the climate change debacle, the role of technology in facilitating the spread of misinformation and disinformation, mass migrations, and a general sense of political impasse, focussing on the narratives and conceptual frameworks that we use to make sense of an increasingly undecipherable world.
The course stresses the need for an urgent understanding of the conditions under which repeated breakdowns, crises, and collapses are quickly forgotten. By looking at the root causes of failure, this course offers a multilayered account of the challenges we face today and a general theory of denial, memory, and nascent structures of control. It also advocates for an ecological approach, i.e. holistic and informed, to acknowledge and address the current predicament. Finally, one of the goals of the course is to suggest possible strategies to imagine a future that is not catastrophic while we can.
Social Change in the Digital Age also encourages students to imagine the world in ten, twenty, fifty years from now. Will climate change lead to the collapse of society as we know it? Will automation lead us to the end of work or completely undermine an economy built on full employment? Will improvements in renewable energy make fossil fuels a thing of the past or will we depended on Big Oil for many decades to come? Will technology become a tool of pervasive surveillance and oppression or a liberating force that could transform our daily life? What kind of political frameworks will prevail? Is capitalism on its way out or is it just updating to remain the same? Will existing trends intensify our best tendencies toward freedom and equality, or our worst, increasing hierarchy, exploitation, and mutual indifference?
Different scenarios, predictions, and forecasts about things to come - including provocative and outlandish ones borrowed from apparently distant disciplines such as social theory, media studies, technology studies, and science fiction - will be played out and critically analyzed in class throughout the semester.
This course introduces students to a diverse set of readings about technology’s impact on the social, cultural, natural, and political spheres, encouraging them to apply the conceptual frameworks and empirical findings discussed in the course to make sense of current events, environments, and contexts.
Specifically, in line with the key objectives of the Program and with the specific objectives of this thematic area the course will help students to:
- Familiarize themselves with the most up-to-date literature in several disciplines relating to technological, social, environmental, and cultural change.
- Understand how to critically examine an academic text, comparing contrasting views, ideas, and concepts, and formulating new hypotheses based on the available information.
- Develop an understanding of the role of technology and media in the shaping and development of communication, culture, society, and politics by critically examining different theoretical approaches and several case studies.
- Craft an ability to critically appreciate and discuss the cultural and social role that technologies play in relation to class, sex, and gender.
- Consider challenges and opportunities, possible outcomes and plausible endgames from different angles, connecting them to a larger socio-cultural framework and by applying an ecological, holistic approach.
- Ultimately, to develop an approach not limited to fully understanding a problem, but also open to the possibility of realistic solutions or predictions about what might replace a contingent situation that seems “inevitable”.
Consistently with the learning objectives of the program, Social Change in the Digital Age will consist of lectures, seminars, and in-class discussions on specific topics concerning the relationship between technology, society, culture, and politics in a time of extreme transformation. Course materials - including assigned readings - and the test will be identical for all enrolled students. Nonetheless, attendance is recommended. Resources such as including in-class presentations, video summaries, extra content and more will be shared via the University's moodle platform, also known as IULM Community. The course – including required texts, presentations, and resources –is taught entirely in English.
Students can also submit an optional multimedia project consisting of a short video essay on a theme chosen by the instructor worth 0 to 3 points that will be added to the written test score. For more information about the optional multimedia project, including requirements, format, duration, and submission deadline please see the "Optional Project" section.
Tuesday October 12 2021 17:00 - 18.00 Neta Alexander (Colgate University, New York)
Tuesday November 2 2021 16:30 - 18.00 Srećko Horvat (philosopher)
Tuesday November 30 2021 16:30 - 18.00 Martin Gurri (former CIA analyst, visiting fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia)
Tuesday December 21 2021 16:30 - 18.00 Whitney Phillips (Syracuse University, New York) and Ryan M. Milner (College of Charleston, to be confirmed)
Online only (Microsoft Teams); appointment only; Wednesdays, 2 - 4 pm.
Please contact the instructor via email to make an appointment.
I respond to email messages during office hours: 09.00 -18.00, Monday to Friday.
I do not access my work email inbox outside working hours, during the weekend and scheduled holidays.
The bibliography for this course consists of the following books:
Arjun Appadurai and Neta Alexander, Failure, Wiley, New York 2019.
Martin Gurri, The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, Stripe Press, San Francisco 2014 (2nd edition: 2018).
Srecko Horvat, After the Apocalypse, Polity Press, New York 2021.
Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner, You Are Here. A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2021.
Jacques Attali, A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century, Arcade, New York 2011.
James Bridle, New Dark Age. Technology and the End of the Future, Verso, London 2017.
Richard Barbrook, Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village, Pluto Press, London 2015.
Franco “bifo” Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility, Verso, London 2017.
Jens Beckert, Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2016.
Aaron Bastani, Fully Automated Luxury Communism, Verso, London 2018.
Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 2016.
Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Verso, London 2016.
Mike Davis, Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, Vintage, New York 1999.
Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything. Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2013.
Ed Finn, What Do Algorithms Want? Imagination in the Age of Computing, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 2017.
Mark Fisher, Capitalism Realism. Is there no alternative?, Zero Books, London 2009.
Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power, Verso, London 2017.
Alex Hochuli, George Hoare, Philip Cunliffe, The End of The End of History, Zero Books, London, 2021
Malcolm Harris, Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, Little, Brown and Company, 2017
Eva Horn, The Future As Catastrophe: Imagining Disaster in the Modern Age, Columbia University Press, New York 2018.
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Simon & Schuster, New York 2015.
Adam Greenfield, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, Verso, London 2018.
Richard Grusin, Premediation. Affect and Mediality After 9/11, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2010.
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future?, Simon & Schuster, New York 2014.
Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, Norton 2018.
Thijs Lijster (Ed.), The Future of the New: Artistic Innovation in Times of Social Acceleration, Valiz, Amsterdam 2018.
Catherine Liu, Virtue Hoarders: The Case against the Professional Managerial Class, Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis 2020.
Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Verso, London 2021.
Andreas Malm, The Progress of This Storm. Nature and Society in a Warming World, Verso, London 2020.
Andreas Malm, Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency. War Communism in the Twenty-First Century, Verso, London 2020.
Robin McCay, Armen Avanessian, The Accelerationist Reader, Urbanomic Media, London 2014, pp. 347-361.
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man, McGraw-Hill, New York 1964.
Toby Miller, Greenwashing Culture, Routledge, London 2017.
Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota 2013.
Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, New York University Press, New York 2018.
Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Broadway Books, New York 2017.
Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2020.
Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology, Verso, London 2018.
Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times, Polity, Cambridge 2020.
Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, Gauthier Chapelle, Another End of the World is Possible: Living the Collapse (and Not Merely Surviving It), Polity, Cambridge 2021.
Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster”, in Idem, Against Interpretation, Picador, New York 1990 , pp. 209-225.
Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, Polity, New York 2016.
Fred Turner, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2013.
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2008.
McKenzie Wark, Capitalism is Dead. Is This Something Worse?, Verso, London 2019.
Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek, "#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics", in Critical Legal Thinking, 14 maggio 2013. URL: https://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/
Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek, Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism in a World Without Work, Verso, London 2015.
Wolf-Meyer, Matthew, Theory for the World to Come, Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2019.
Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, New York 2019.
Joanna Zylinska, The End of Man. A Feminist Counterapocalypse, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2018.
Arjun Appadurai and Neta Alexander, Failure, Wiley, New York 2019.
Srecko Horvat, After the Apocalypse, Polity Press, New York 2021.
Optional multimedia project: THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Students are encouraged to produce a digital video illustrating the themes and topics discussed during the semester.
Specifically, such video must address the following questions: What kind of future do you imagine, if any? Which scenario discussed throughout the semester do you find feasible, realistic, or desiderable in the next 10 to 30 years? Will tomorrow bring an utopian or dystopian scenario? Share your vision.
The video's maximum length is 300 seconds (5 minutes); students can use different formats, e.g. video essay, video art, book trailer, book commentary and so on); students can use any kind of image and sound in their video as long as they properly credit all sources.
Projects are individual. This is not a group exercise.
Only one project can be submitted. Students cannot submit more versions of the same project.
Each video must be accompanied by a description which must include the following elements:
- Student's full name, ID number, date
- Course title, Instructor's full name
- Project description (max 500 words, not including sources/references)
- Sources/references (assets used for the video and bibliography)
The video and the related document must be submitted no later than December 14 2020 by 23:59 (projects submitted after that date will not be considered).
Accepted formats: .mp4 only; HD (1920 x 1080) or 4k (3840 × 2160)
Max size: 4 GB
Project must be sent to the instructor ([email protected]) using file sharing platforms such as Dropbox, WeTransfer, Google Drive, etc.
Deadline: DECEMBER 21 2021
The submitted videos will be judged by the instructor on the basis of their aesthetic and conceptual qualities.
Specifically, the following criteria will be considered: concept, structure, presentation, originality, creativity, impact.
concept - is the idea sound? Is the student able to recontextualize one or more concepts discussed throughout the semester? Does the video show an understanding of key issues pertaining to the future of culture, technology, society and/or the environment? Is the student engaging with the course content in an effective way? Did the student use one or more recommended resources?
structure - Is the video well organized? Does it "flow" or is it a mere assemblage of random images and sounds? Does it effectively communicate an idea, a theme, a message? Do the different parts concur to build something bigger or are they disconnected and unrelated from each other?
presentation - Is the video well edited? Is the author's visual or narrative presentation effective, cohesive, and cogent?
originality - Is the approach innovative? Does the video merely recycle existing content or does it introduce something specifically created for the project?
creativity - Does the video cleverly examine future scenarios? Does it demonstrate a level of ingenuity in depicting what's to come? Does it demonstrate that the student fully grasped the key ideas?
impact - Does the video leave a strong impression on the viewer? Is it memorable or forgettable? Is it shocking or reassuring?
The optional multimedia project will receive a score ranging from 0-3 points, which will be added to the written test result (only if 18 or above).
The best videos made by the students will be shared online and screened in class. Projects will be shared on the Moodle platform.
Final scores will be announced on JANUARY 7 2022 via email.
Resources & inspiration
Global Trends 2040 (A publication of the National Intelligence Council, March 2021)
Alternative Worlds (A publication of the National Intelligence Council, March 2021)
Four Scenarios for Geopolitical Order in 2025-2030: What Will Great Power Competition Look Like? (Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 2020)
Donella Meadows, Limits to Growth: The 30 year update (pdf)
New York Times, Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows, 2019
World Bank, The Groundswell Report, 2018: "Climate Change Could Force 140 million to migrate by 2050"
Colin Mason, The 2030 Spike. Countdown to Global Catastrophe, Earthscan, London 2003.
Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis USN, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, Penguin Press, London 2021
Douglas Coupland, Slogans for the class of 2030, Google Arts & Culture
Liam Young, Planet City, 2021: an award winning animated short film, with which the artist explores an extreme possibility for the survival of mankind, where the entire population of the Earth retreats into one big city.
Taipei Biennial, 2020 curated by Bruno Latour, Martin Guinard and Eva Lin.
there is the planet of the those who want to keep modernizing regardless of the planet’s boundaries (planet Globalization). But this planet seems to have little traction among those who feel betrayed by the current economic system and need to hide behind the walls of their nation state to protect themselves (planet Security). This is without mentioning the few hyper-privileged who can afford to think they will escape to Mars (planet Escape). This discussion is occurring while the way of life on a planet that could reconcile forms of prosperity while keeping in the planetary limits has yet to be invented (planet Gaia).
On the "Metaverse"
Brooke Gladstone, "The Science Fiction Origins of the Metaverse", On the media (OTM) podcast, November 5 2021
Nicholas Carr, Meanings of the Metaverse: Productivizing Reality, Rough Type, October 31 2021
Amanda Hess, The Mark Zuckerberg Aesthetic, The New York Times, November 2 2021
Copyright free archival footage
Pond 5: The Public Domain Project
Find more resources on the moodle platform.
Submission deadline: December 21 2021 by 23.59
Evaluation: January 7 2022